What Readers Want: A Guide to Converting Readers With Short Attention Spans

Keeping the attention of a reader is important, especially if the reader is expected to convert.  There are four critical elements to getting and holding attention with copy: usefulness, conciseness, urgency, and a promise kept

Usefulness: What Does a Reader Want?

People do not tend to read texts or watch videos without a reason.  You need to give them that reason again and again.  This article starts with the main reason: keeping the attention of a reader, and it hits that point again and again.  You need to do the same thing with your writing by discovering what the reader wants to hear about and coming back to that point.

Here are a few ways to get a message across while constantly getting back to the focal point and providing useful information:

  • Headings and sub-headings – These should be logically broken up but also offer a promise of value.  Headers that start with phrases like ‘how to…’ or ‘why… does/doesn’t work’ are great ideas because they provide useful answers to questions.
  • Facts and figures – If there are any facts, figures, or projections, feel free to toss them in to drive home the point.  Be sure to quote sources and consider mixing facts and headings whenever practical.
  • Anecdotes are nice, but they need to be tied in – keep them short and bring them right back to the point quickly.  Leave no dots that need to be connected as your readers may not want to connect the dots for you.
  • Finally, be concise

Concise: Don’t Lose Your Readers

If there is one copywriting sin that I commit time and again, it is that I’m not concise enough.  This is a huge problem and it is one that loses readers.  To that end, do everything you can to tighten up your copy.  Re-read it again and again and chop out that which is not necessary.  I like to call this trimming the fat, and it is critical to keeping the attention of readers.

Urgency: Just Because They Agree Doesn’t Mean That They Will Act

Copywriting is primarily about conversions, and that means that a sense of urgency needs to be created if you hope to capitalize in capturing the attention span of any given reader.  If they know that the latest sneakers are great for shaping their buns, they are still left free to buy at any time.  If they are reminded that your site offers a discount code, they might think it is there permanently. This is why discount codes should only be good for a limited time.

There are subtler ways to create urgency as well:

  • Peer-pressure – Sometimes just mentioning the popularity of an item can often be enough to build urgency.
  • Limited supply or limited time offer – Sometimes supplies are constrained and offers are for a limited duration.  If that is the case, then feel free to let people know.
  • Value added – If supply is not limited, then offer a personalization touch such as an autograph to the first x number of customers may add some urgency.

Keep Your Promises or Pay the Price

If you write an article that promises something and doesn’t deliver quickly then expect to lose your readers. To help increase their attention span, deliver bullet points or main topics up front. This will give you time to elaborate and expand on those ideas.  By meeting a promise quickly and making a second promise, you are building a pattern of trust.  One promise fulfilled leads to another, and this pattern helps making the sale a simpler process.

Written by Nick Reese

Nick Reese is a multi-passionate entrepreneur who believes anyone can transform their business and life they they've got guts and hustle. He's also the co-founder of Broadband Now which aims to simplify the broadband shopping process.



  • Ariel Bierl says:

    I like the point of creating urgency. That is one thing that I believe is one of the most important things to do.

  • Rick LaPoint says:

    Not long ago I wrote a well-received piece, but one of the last comments said, “nice long post.” I must remember we live in a world where a 3 minute music video looses half their audience half way thru.

  • Lisa Kemper says:

    These are great tips and very useful. I find it especially important to create urgency when blogging.

  • Marc Brodeur says:

    Short of online attention deficit disorder medication, I guess we have to so something to grab a readers interest and hold it. I think being concise, a bit of humor and a sense of urgency all help. Great tips. Anything that helps is appreciated.

  • People have no reading skills nowadays its all fast short snippets and text message style posts.

  • I agree. It is much easier to read a short blog with many small paragraphs than a large one. I try to cut up my blogs into short concise chunks. If I have a long topic to discuss I will use Part 1 and Part 2 system to cut it up over a few days.

  • Ramya S says:

    True! And a blog like mine where visitors come in for images, you’ve got even lesser time to get their attention and make them visit a couple of more pages. I find that quite challenging! Good article with focus on multiple nevertheless key points.

  • soft-oem says:

    I’ve been looking for information I needed for a long time, but only your site has helped me to find it. Thank you very much. I’m sure to tell my friends about you.

  • Gregory C. says:

    Short attention spans: the unfortunate side effect of the interwebs.

    Good read Nick!